Van Jones sets out to counter the Tea Party, and Rebuild the American Dream

Obama’s former green jobs czar, Van Jones, launched a campaign in New York on Thursday called Rebuild the Dream. I’m watching video of the inaugural event now, and I’m torn. On one hand, I appreciate the thought behind it, and very much like the idea of a progressive, reality-based equivalent to the conservative Tea Party movement. And I appreciate the considerable work that he’s already done behind the scenes. (Jones has, among other things, been able to garner not only the approval, but the active involvement of groups like the AFL-CIO, TrueMajority, USAction, and MoveOn.) But, on the other hand, something just strikes me as phony about the whole thing. Maybe it’s the infomercial feel of this first big public announcement. Jones, who I admittedly have not had a great deal of experience with, comes across as more of a self-help guru than a man who’s truly concerned about the steadily eroding American dream. But, maybe that’s what you need to build a movement that extends beyond just viewers of the Daily Show, and farther into middle America. Maybe you need a certain degree of showmanship, a live band, cameras shooting from multiple angles, and well-rehersed comments made to sound as though they’re off-the-cuff. Like I said, though – maybe I’d be more willing to give him the benefit of the doubt if I knew anything substantive about him. (All I know is that he was forced out of the Obama White House by conservatives who painted him as an America-hating Marxist who thought that the Bush administration deliberately allowed the 9/11 attacks to occur.) I guess, if I had to sum up my criticism, I’d say that the message seemed right, but that the whole thing was just too choreographed. But, I’d encourage you to watch for yourself and make up your own mind. (The interface for the video sucks, by the way, so watching isn’t easy. Among other things, there’s no way to jump forward, which probably accounts for a lot of my negativity.)

Here, by way of background, are a few comments made by Jones in a recent interview with Rolling Stone.

….What’s the big idea behind “Rebuild America?”

We see a huge disconnect between what the political elite is talking about in Washington, D.C. – now in both parties – and what ordinary Americans are talking about in barber shops, nail salons, bowling alleys, and houses of worship. There is much, much more concern about jobs, and much more openness to solving the budget crisis by more balanced means – including raising taxes on rich folks – than D.C. seems to understand.

The American Dream itself is being killed off in America. Just this basic idea that ordinary people should be able to find a job, keep a job, keep a home and give their kid a better life. I’m talking about the young veterans who are coming home, to no job and no hope. When they were overseas in somebody else’s country on the military battleground, these young people got a lot of support. They get back home, they get dumped off into an economic battleground with no support.

They’re part of a larger cohort of young people in America, many of whom who are graduating off of a cliff into the worst economy since World War II. There’s an incredible youth unemployment, crisis, where even kids who want to work and have an education wind up stuck as interns, for two years, three years, four years – never becoming the young professional that they expected. Those young people need a movement to rebuild the “American dream.”

You have the people who are being thrown out of their homes by America’s banks, or the people who are staying in their homes but they’re underwater on their mortgages and desperately need the banks to renegotiate – cut the principal or cut the rate – and the banks just ain’t up on it.

To other groups – the so-called “ninety-niners” – the long-term unemployed in our country who are finding out just because they lost a job, just because they’re forty years-old or fifty years-old, that they may never get a job again. Our most skilled workers. They should be in the prime of their careers. They are in need of a movement to rebuild the “American dream.”

And then lastly, most visibly, America’s cops, teachers, firefighters, nurses. These are the backbone of America, the heart and soul of our community, who are being thrown under the bus. We’re talking about massive, massive, constituencies of economic casualties in our country that D.C. isn’t even talking about. And, we think that a movement that brought their voices forward would make a tremendous difference. It could change the discussion in the same way that the Tea Party movement changed the discussion.

What gives you confidence that you can turn this into the Left’s version of the Tea Party?

The fight back is already happening. This movement for a more sane approach to American problems is already twice as big as the Tea Party movement right now. The Tea Party movement shocked the world because they had 150,000 people who came to Washington D.C. in September 2009. We had 150,000 people on the streets of Madison, Wisconsin, fighting for the American dream. A massive protest in Ohio. Young people fighting against tuition hikes all across the country. People running into these town hall meetings screaming about the Ryan Budget and Medicare.

The genius of the Tea Party was that it took, frankly, a bunch of very small groups a bunch of corporate cash and presented something under a single banner, that the media could then relate to, and Fox News could then report on as a solid, singular phenomenon.

We’re united by a passion to do something about what’s happening in the economy, and to not let a bad situation be made worse. The private sector already imposed an austerity program on the American people – that was the crash. We don’t need a public austerity program on top of a private austerity program. We think that’s reckless and foolish. It’s all cuts and no revenue. But there has not yet been a voice from the American people making that point, and we want to help to make that point, through the American Dream movement…

Again, I don’t mean to imply that this isn’t a worthwhile endeavor, or that it can’t evolve into something great and meaningful. We certainly need more people talking about these issues passionately, and trying to build consensus around solutions. And, as it wasn’t happening fast enough on its own, maybe a catalyst like this was necessary. The whole thing just left me a little dubious. I felt as though I was being sold something. I’m certainly willing to give them another chance, though. And, it looks as though I’ll have opportunities. According to Jones, the Rebuild the Dream team will be very active over the next several months, beginning on July 5, when they’ll start collecting ideas on ways to get America back on the right track. And, once those ideas are submitted, live meetings will take place across the country, during which individuals will have an opportunity to voice their opinions as to which ideas are the most promising. Those would then, according to Jones, make their way into what he’s calling The Contract for the American Dream, which would be delivered to our elected officials at the end of an enormous rally in DC, or something along those lines… And, like I said, I think all of that is great, if he can pull it off.

Watch live streaming video from rebuildthedream at
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  1. Posted June 26, 2011 at 1:10 am | Permalink

    For those of you who don’t want to sit though the musical number by The Roots, there’s now a YouTube highlight reel.

  2. donna
    Posted June 26, 2011 at 3:03 am | Permalink

    um, how about we just start by repealing w’s wacky tax cuts?

  3. Mr. X
    Posted June 26, 2011 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    Maybe he’s on the right track. Maybe this is the way to introduce a populist movement in 2011. It may not be something that resonates with everyone, especially those who have been paying attention these past several years, but it might be what’s called for in the dumbed down world where Fox News reigns supreme.

  4. Edward
    Posted June 26, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

    I’m curious as to how this is being funded. Are the unions, MoveOn, and the others contributing, or does Van Jones have a sugar daddy, like George Soros, behind the scenes?

  5. LisaD
    Posted June 26, 2011 at 8:50 pm | Permalink

    Van Jones is one of my heros, and an inspiration to me. He was the head of Green for All for quite a while, which was one of the first organizations to really effectively link the need for green jobs to the need for jobs in low income areas. I’ve gone out of my way to hear him speak because he speaks with such honesty and passion – somehow he manages to walk the line between ‘angry because we should all be’ and compassionate. I’m not sure who is funding this, but I know I’d give money to just about anything he’s involved in. Ok, I’ll stop now, but let me know if you’d like me to write more about the 238 ways in which Van Jones is awesome. :)

    Besides, how could you not like a guy who gives a talk called ‘The economic injustice of plastic’ on TED talks?

  6. JP Olsen
    Posted June 26, 2011 at 9:18 pm | Permalink

    A challenge of organizing the left is there are a lot of people on the left who are predisposed to resist and question mass movements. Who funds it? What is this “really” about? Will it work? Here is a short list of 500 reasons it may fail. Question authority types. Conscientious objectors to group think. (I’d ask everyone who fits this description to raise their hands, but we resist being told to raise our hands like sheep.)

    I’m not sure Van Jones is trying to reach the above. I think he may be trying to reach people who are more comfortable with movements where their gut inclinations are affirmed by others. People who buy things on QVC .

    My inclination is to “wait and see.” Study and evaluate before guardedly half committing. But I’m not sure that’s how populist movements are made. And I’m not sure my perpetual resistance and skepticism helps me make better choices than impulse shoppers.

  7. Posted June 26, 2011 at 11:26 pm | Permalink

    Like I said, I haven’t really followed his career. If I had, maybe I wouldn’t have had that reaction. At any rate, I’m glad to hear that you approve of his work, Lisa. Your recommendation goes a long way with me… And thanks for saying what I tried to say, only better, JP. I appreciate it.

  8. Meta
    Posted June 27, 2011 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    MoveOn is helping to coordinate the house parties. I received the following last night.

    Dear MoveOn member,

    “Can liberals start their own tea party?”

    That was a Washington Post headline on Friday—and it’s a good question.

    Last week, green jobs visionary Van Jones introduced a new organization focused on progressive economic solutions: Rebuild the Dream. Rebuild the Dream is joining with organizations including MoveOn, the AFL-CIO, SEIU, the Campaign for Community Change, and many more, to launch a new effort to build up a people-powered movement to counter the influence of the tea party.

    The first step for this emerging American Dream movement is creating our own blueprint for fixing the economy—an all-new Contract for the American Dream.

    On July 16 and 17 we’re organizing American Dream house meetings to shape the Contract and set our priorities. Our goal is to have at least one meeting in each of the 435 congressional districts and we’re still looking for people to host meetings in Ypsilanti.

    Can you host an American Dream house meeting so that people in Ypsilanti can get involved in crafting our Contract for the American Dream?

    If we can find enough people like you to host meetings, we’ll be well on our way to answering the Washington Post’s question with a resounding “Yes!”

    The Internet is buzzing about what exactly the American Dream movement stands for and, more importantly, what it means for our future.

    Our goal is to create a Contract that calls for concrete changes based on the principles that bind us together as progressives, and as neighbors and friends. The Contract will provide a common foundation for progressive campaigning across issues—from local budget fights to national efforts to protect and expand Medicare and Social Security.

    We’ll use it to show the media that we’re all working together like never before—and we’ll use it to hold our politicians accountable for helping to create an economy that works for all of us.

    Like our movement itself, we’re building the Contract from the ground up. First, we’ll harness the power of the Internet to get as many great ideas as possible. Then, on July 16 and 17, we’ll gather in living rooms, church basements, and community centers to go deeper. We’ll share stories, have real discussions, and together help craft the Contract for the American Dream.

    But none of this is going to happen unless people like you step forward to host a meeting to shape the Contract and help our movement grow.

    Can you help by hosting in Ypsilanti?

  9. Meta
    Posted June 29, 2011 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    A letter from Van Jones, though MoveOn.

    I’m Van Jones, and last week, I joined with MoveOn to launch Rebuild the Dream. This big new project is dedicated to creating an economy that works for ALL of us—and to stopping the attacks on the middle class and working Americans.

    Since we launched last week, the question folks keep asking me is: “Why are you talking about the American Dream? Didn’t we all give up on that a long time ago?”

    Sadly, they’re right. Too many of us have stopped talking about our dreams—stopped thinking in terms of what we’re really capable of achieving in this country. I believe that’s actually part of the problem.

    That’s why I am so excited to invite you to take part in the next step in building the American Dream movement. On July 16 and 17 people in neighborhoods across the country are gathering at more than 900 American Dream house meetings to share our stories, express our hopes, hone our best ideas, and craft a plan for working together to fix our broken economy.

    There’s a meeting in Ypsilanti on Sunday, Jul. 17, 2011, at 7:00 PM. Can you join in?

    Yes, I want to RSVP!

    I promise it’ll inspire you.

    For me, the American Dream is something my dad instilled in me. He climbed out of poverty up the ladder of opportunity—then he put my sister and me through college.

    As I’ve traveled around the country talking to thousands of people over the past year, it’s become clear that we, as a country, are letting that ladder fall down. People have told me over and over that the American Dream is slipping further and further away for them and their families.

    We need to stop reckless greed at the top from killing our dreams. That’s the inspiration behind Rebuild the Dream.

    Because the American Dream used to mean something in this country. That if you put in a hard day’s work, you could expect good American wages, benefits, a dignified retirement, and a better life for your kids. Everyone wasn’t in the middle class, but everyone believed that—given a fair shot—they could make it there. That’s the American Dream I’m fighting for.

    Our shared path to the American Dream begins with a conversation among concerned friends and neighbors at hundreds of American Dream house meetings on July 16 and 17. These simple house meetings will launch a grassroots agenda-creation process that we’ll use to drive the American Dream movement forward.

    Can you make it in Ypsilanti on Sunday, Jul. 17, 2011, at 7:00 PM?

    Yes, I’ll be there!

    Thanks for all you do.

    –Van Jones

    You can RSVP here for the Ypsi meetup.

  10. Meta
    Posted July 8, 2011 at 3:23 pm | Permalink

    Truthout has a good interview with Van Jones on what he’s now calling an economic justice movement.

  11. Mr. X
    Posted August 8, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    There’s going to be a Rebuild the American Dream “Jobs not Cuts” gathering in Ypsi, at noon on Wednesday. So, if you don’t have to be at a job, drop by. The following notice is from MoveOn.

    Disgust, frustration, and anger. That’s what the country is feeling over the debt ceiling deal.

    Republicans held the economy hostage to protect tax cuts for the wealthy, and Democrats opened the back door to cuts for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. Meanwhile the jobs crisis keeps getting worse, and the stock market has dropped dramatically, further slowing recovery.

    But we can’t just stay home and yell at the TV or groan as we read the newspaper. With Congress home for the summer starting next week, we have to make the most of our opportunity to show them exactly how disgusted, frustrated, and angry we are. The media and members of Congress will be watching closely to see how voters are responding during the August congressional recess.

    That’s why we’re joining with partners in the American Dream movement to hold “Jobs Not Cuts” events at district offices nationwide next Wednesday. Can you help make sure Rep. John Dingell gets a wakeup call to start creating jobs and stop cutting our path to the American Dream?

    Jobs Not Cuts event
    Congressman Dingell’s Ypsilanti Office
    301 W. Michigan Ave.
    Ypsilanti, MI 48197
    Wednesday, August 10th, 12:00 PM

    And wear your red, white, and blue clothes so we can show everyone what the American Dream movement is all about.

    This is the perfect time for us to turn up the heat, and turn the focus to what it will take to rebuild the American Dream. We need to show Rep. Dingell that we’re sick of the cuts, sick of political games, and sick of them ignoring the jobs crisis in our community. Can you join thousands of angry Americans on Wednesday, August 10, at hundreds of “Jobs Not Cuts” events at congressional offices nationwide?

  12. Question
    Posted October 2, 2011 at 1:41 am | Permalink

    Has Van Jones put in an appearance yet at Occupy Wall Street?

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] the launch of his Contract for the American Dream initiative. (This, as you’ll recall from our last discussion on Van Jones, is part of the broader Rebuilding the Dream “movement” which he recently got off the […]

  2. […] earlier discussion on the Rebuild the Dream initiative, can be found here.] This entry was posted in Politics and tagged American dream, Bush tax cuts, clean energy, […]

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